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All the newness, however, isn’t completely free of baggage from the past, including diva moments, a party-hard attitude and stints in rehab. And then there are the fashion upstarts trying to mimic his meteoric rise and become the new bellwether.

The native New Yorker’s strong sense of style emerged when he was a teen, attending the High School of Art and Design and being named by Parsons the New School for Design as its student of the year. He launched his label in 1986 and became the youngest winner of an emerging talent award from the CFDA.

He was hired _ along with business partner Robert Duffy, who has been with Jacobs since _ at Perry Ellis in 1989 to revive a brand that lost its way with Ellis’ death a few years earlier. Jacobs put Perry Ellis back on the map, for sure, but company executives weren’t as charmed by his flannel shirts and plaid prints in the landmark 1992 grunge collection. He and Duffy were fired not long after.

They launched a new version of their company in 1993, but it didn’t have an immediate impact. It chugged along until Jacobs started moonlighting for Louis Vuitton, which also brought financial backing from powerhouse parent company LVMH.

He became the wunderkind yet again.

Jacobs has the unusual ability to connect to the woman who is going to wear his clothes, says Bridget Foley, executive editor of Women’s Wear Daily. He is passionate about style, she says, but doesn’t make it more than it is, either. “Marc doesn’t over-intellectualize clothes. He loves it because of fashion. He loves beautiful things, but he’s not an over-analyzer of the process or result.”

It’s not a matter of the accolades, money or even attention, all of which he readily admits he loves _ especially the attention, Jacobs says. It’s about a paying customer making a choice. “That’s how I define success: Seeing someone in something I’ve had a hand in designing. It could be shoes, a bag, a dress. If we’re lucky enough that someone has chosen ours, I’m so grateful and I’m always struck by it.”

He doesn’t narrow the description of his muse or even his target consumer to cool types such as his friends Sofia Coppola, Victoria Beckham or Kim Gordon; that would be too limiting. He’d rather think his shopper has “a very full life that’s rich with things they don’t need and want to make life more beautiful.”

Jacobs is true to himself and that vision, and that contributes to his longevity, Foley adds. “He’s at the peak of influence and clout. He’s maintaining the excitement. Marc is one of the most anticipated shows of the season anywhere, and that’s hard to maintain over the long haul. Miuccia Prada has the same thing. … You don’t know what to expect _ he could do A for spring and C for fall, yet each is consummately Marc Jacobs.”

What to do next is always on Jacobs‘ mind. “I’m not a linear thinker, nothing ever comes from one source,” he says. The inspiration “can come from anywhere and come anytime,” although he’s never starting from scratch, nor is he ever really done. It’s all an evolution, with his famous last-minute tinkering to get layers to sit just so or the perfect color lipstick on the it-girl model that no one knows is the next it girl until she appears on Jacobs‘ catwalk.

Jacobs says he is friendly with other industry insiders and is a cheerleader for them. He is in the unique position to appreciate their accomplishments, he notes. “When I see reports that another show is great, or I can see it _ even on the Internet _ as a great work, I feel good. I know what it takes to do this job: the stress, the trial and error, the dedication.”

The payoff is undeniable, though. “I’m first and foremost a fashion fan _ it’s my original reason for doing this, and it’s still my reason for doing this.”